Perishable fruits and vegetables produced by farmers in developing countries often spoil, even before they can be harvested, sold, and consumed.
Frequently lacking access to modern cold storage technology, many farmers thus face limited income opportunities in a world where a third of all food is currently lost or wasted, despite growing global demand.
Apeel Sciences has a solution. The US-based agricultural technology firm has developed an inexpensive, sprayed-on natural coating derived from plants that doubles the shelf life of produce, opening doors to new, higher-value markets. This gives farmers more time to find buyers, and helps them enter new, better-paying supply chains that were previously out of reach—selling food that would otherwise go to waste.
The World Bank Group estimates that agricultural production must expand by approximately 70 percent by 2050 to meet the food requirements of a planet with 10 billion people. This makes the time right for game-changing solutions like Apeel’s natural coating product.
IFC is responding by combining investment and advice to help the firm address higher demand for food in an environmentally sustainable, socially inclusive way. This year, IFC took part in a $30 million venture-capital investment round in Apeel to expand its produce-coating systems in more markets, including Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. IFC and two other investors took part in the second close of the Series D round, which totaled $280 million.
Apeel is installing additional treatment equipment to coat citrus fruit and asparagus in Mexico, avocados and asparagus in Peru, and pineapples in Costa Rica. The company plans a global roll-out in Chile, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda, where cold storage facilities are limited. In addition to increasing farmer incomes, it also brings climate benefits: by reducing food losses, Apeel generates reduced or avoided greenhouse gas emissions from the longer agricultural storage of fresh fruits and vegetables.
In time, using Apeel’s technology, local producers can enter the global markets as their produce will stay intact until it reaches the end customer. Apeel-treated fruits and vegetables from other countries are already sold in leading grocery store chains in Europe and the US, a strong retail presence expected to grow in the coming years. Farmers of all sizes benefit from working with Apeel, which over time will help more and more smallholders access export markets.
“Apeel has huge potential to turn subsistence farmers in Africa into commercial farmers,” Christina Owen of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped Apeel launch with a $100,000 grant in 2012, told Bloomberg Business Week. “That means more money in pockets, and more food in bellies.”